As the World Glaucoma Day was marked on Monday, Nigerians above forty years have been advised to go for eye check at least twice a year, to protect themselves against blindness from the disease.
Glaucoma is a disease that affects the nerves of the eyes and leads to gradual blindness overtime. To promote awareness of the disease, March 12 is internationally recognised as World Glaucoma Day, while March 11-17 is World Glaucoma Week.
Lack of early detection of the disease has been attributed as one of the reasons why most glaucoma patients in Nigeria lost their sight to the disease.
An ophthalmologist, Fatimah Kyari, said it is sad that most patients with glaucoma do not present their cases to the hospital until too late.
She said most of the patients present their cases after they had lost an eye and are gradually losing the other.
According to Ms. Kyari, another reason most people lose their sight to the disease is that they do not visit the right specialists who were trained to diagnose rare eye problems.
“Glaucoma if early diagnosed can be managed and prevent total blindness. We need to make people know that blindness from glaucoma can be prevented if presented early.
“We often advise patients who come for treatment to go back home and encourage their relations on the diseases. There is also need for constant eye screening because glaucoma is hereditary. People with family history of glaucoma have a high tendency of having the disease,” she said.
Ms. Kyari said another challenge with early treatment of the disease is that most people live in denial.
“They do not believe when they are told they are gradually losing their sight. Most of them tend to hide the ailment and do not come back for treatment until it gets worse.
“I will advise Nigerians especially people above 40 to go for eye checkup at least twice a year and should insist on seeing a specialist and not a technician,” she said.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world and second cause of blindness after cataract.
Africans and African Americans are the highest number affected with glaucoma across the world. About 1.5 million people are living with the threat of going blind due to the disease.
A glaucoma patient, John Awodele, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said the challenge with having glaucoma in Nigeria is the early diagnosis and management of the disease.
Mr. Awodele said he knew he had the tendency of having the disease because most of his maternal uncles lost their sight to the disease, yet his case was not detected early.
He said although he was going to the optician regularly for checkup, it only led to him changing his glasses.
Mr. Awodele said because of his knowledge of the disease, he always told his opticians to check for it.
He became concerned when he had to change his reading glasses three times within a year because he was not seeing well.
“Ever since my case was detected by the optometrist, I had been placed on drugs which I use every day. The problem is the cost of getting medication and the side effect of the drugs. The drug cost about N8, 000 per month.
“The cost of treatment is quite high especially for the aged who are often most affected by the disease. Most of them cannot afford the drugs and this is affecting the treatment of the ailment. The government should make treatment of glaucoma a priority especially as it affects the aged in the country,” he said.
Mr. Awodele, however, said the amount spent on treatment is worth it, judging by the long term effect of the drugs in preventing total blindness.
Ms. Kyari said there is no significant difference in the prevalent blindness rate in the urban and rural area because the level of awareness of the disease is same irrespective of status, age, and education.
This was also seen in a survey done by PREMIUM TIMES as most of the people asked on the streets of Abuja said they had no knowledge of the disease.
10 facts about glaucoma
1. Glaucoma is a common eye condition where the optic nerves connecting the eye to the brain is damaged, usually due to high eye pressure.
2. Glaucoma has no symptom. It can only be detected by regular eye examination.
3. Treatment can help, but this condition cannot be cured.
4. Diagnosis requires laboratory test or imaging test.
5. Glaucoma can be chronic and can last for years or be lifelong.
6. Sight loss to glaucoma cannot be recovered.
7. Glaucoma can be diagnosed by seeing an optometrist.
8. There are 100,000 cases in Nigeria per year, most undiagnosed.
9. Glaucoma is hereditary.
10. Glaucoma is usually a slow disease. Untreated glaucoma takes an average of 15 years to progress from early damage to blindness.